A major state contractor has been accused of systematically failing to pay overtime wages to thousands of home care workers in Pennsylvania in a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court. The suit alleges Public Partnerships, LLC, a subsidiary of the nationwide management consulting firm Public Consulting Group, knowingly refused to pay workers for overtime despite its active role in hiring employees, administering services and issuing paychecks, a violation of federal and state laws governing wages and labor conditions. The issues raised in the case mirror those at the forefront of ongoing litigation throughout the country on joint employers and their responsibilities to their workers.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the lawsuit charges that Public Partnerships, LLC (PPL), which employs more than 20,000 people in Pennsylvania, willfully denied proper overtime wages to home care workers across the state. Federal and state laws stipulate that employees are entitled to be paid time-and-a-half for hours worked over 40 per week. The lawsuit alleges that for years the company used its regular hourly rate regardless of hours worked, and though it recently began paying overtime premiums, the company has continued to omit or incorrectly calculate overtime compensation.
“Every day, tens of thousands of workers in Pennsylvania call upon their compassion and dedication to tend to some of our society’s most vulnerable members,” said Christine E. Webber, partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll and lead counsel on the case. “Yet, despite the critical role they play, their employer has continued to deny them the fair compensation promised to them by law. We look forward to pursuing justice for these incredible men and women and defending the value of their vital contributions to our community.”
Owned by Public Consulting Group (PCG), a management consulting company operating in all 50 states, PPL contracts with state agencies to provide Medicaid-funded “direct care” services to qualifying elderly or disabled individuals, including the Office of Long Term Living Programs and the Office of Developmental Programs in Pennsylvania. These direct care services include a range of companionship, personal care and domestic assistance services for clients, such as bathing, feeding, arranging transportation and administering medication. As detailed in the complaint, the company plays a critical role in managing direct care workers’ professional relationship with their clients. In addition to screening workers to authorize them for hiring and terminating employees, PPL is responsible for issuing paychecks and W-2 forms, maintaining records of hours worked and other personnel matters, as well as informing workers and their clients of changes in pay.
The complaint details the experiences of Ralph Talarico, a direct care worker from Lancaster employed by PPL since January 2013. The 59 year old grandfather is regularly asked to work well beyond the 40 hour per week benchmark. The complaint notes that Mr. Talarico often spends more than 60 hours per week caring for a single client, while also being “on call” and providing care to additional clients during the same span of time.
“I take great pride in the important work my colleagues and I do, and the commitment I have for those I serve is deep and unwavering,” said Ralph Talarico, lead plaintiff in the proposed class action lawsuit. “But the fact that we are being denied fair compensation is a fundamental injustice that cannot be ignored. Like my PPL colleagues throughout Pennsylvania, my job helps put food on the dinner table at night, so the actions of PPL have very real consequences for our families and loved ones.”
According to the complaint, PPL’s failure to pay overtime wages to its direct care workers constitutes neglect of its responsibility as an employer or joint employer, a violation of both federal and state laws governing pay. While the Fair Labor Standards Act, which governs minimum wage and overtime pay, includes certain exemptions for companionship workers, these exceptions do not apply to employees of third-party agencies such PPL, which are still obligated to pay overtime premiums. Furthermore, the complaint alleges PPL’s actions violate Pennsylvania state law, which similarly requires direct care workers employed by a third party to be paid overtime wages.
While the company changed its policy in 2016 and began paying some overtime wages, the lawsuit charges that PPL never compensated Mr. Talarico and other workers for overtime work performed prior to November 2015. Even after the change in policy, the complaint also alleges the company continues to omit or incorrectly calculate overtime compensation. Despite the fact that many employees work with multiple clients, the lawsuit accuses the company of continuing to only pay overtime premiums for services rendered to a single client. The lawsuit also alleges that the company has continued to omit hours spent traveling from one client to another in calculating pay.
The issues raised in the lawsuit echo developments in the ongoing legal and political debate surrounding joint employers and their obligations to their workforces. In a 2015 dispute involving national waste management firm Republic Services and employees at a recycling center, the National Labor Review Board (NLRB) issued a landmark ruling that broadened the definition of joint employers to include large corporations that use subcontractors.
The lawsuit filed Thursday seeks collective and class action status for Mr. Talarico and thousands of other similarly situated direct care workers in Pennsylvania, as well as damages for unpaid overtime wages and fees associated with the litigation. The plaintiff is represented by Christine E. Webber of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Rachhana T. Srey and Robert L. Schug of Nichols Kaster, PLLP and Richard Katz of Arnold, Beyer & Katz.
About Cohen Milstein
Founded in 1969, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC is a national leader in plaintiff class action lawsuits and litigation. As one of the premier firms in the country handling major complex cases, Cohen Milstein, with 90 attorneys, has offices in Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Denver, Colo., and Raleigh, N.C. For more information, visit www.cohenmilstein.com or call (267) 479-5700.
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